Mama

I kind of sucked as a daughter this morning when I called home. I called to confirm dates for my August flight back to Taichung, but my mom brought up my upcoming weekend trip to Hong Kong. The trip was initially twofold: see my grandma who just got out of the hospital and the first-ever Hong Kong (!) Shinhwa concert. Obvious lie of omission that I didn’t mention the latter, but it was replaced with my third reason: I need to get out of here.

I told my mother that if I didn’t think that this job was a learning/growing (whatever) experience, I would quit. At that moment, I wanted to quit so badly. But I have a responsibility to myself – to not quit when times get hard (or am I just being too stubborn to admit failure?) – and a responsibility to my school – there was a verbal agreement, and I’m not the type to walk away from something like that. A month ago I would’ve said that I have a responsibility to my students to see them through to high school (grade 10 in Taiwan), but even now, a huge part of me doesn’t give a flying fuck, nor do I think they do either (or more than half of them don’t).

Never have I felt more like a glorified babysitter. I think part of is that I honestly don’t think I can change these kids because they’re so accustomed to their cushy, I-have-money lifestyle where everything is handed to them on a silver plate. I mean, this is a private school, and yes, there are a lot of private school kids who behave like this, but I have kids who freaking think showing up to a class is enough to earn them an A+. And they just absolutely refuse to change this attitude. Heaven forbid they’re disciplined because they behaved inappropriately. Regardless of what they do, I’m always the evil one. Naive of me to think that I had it made – I found a profession that I was absolutely in love with and passionate about and, despite the occasional hard times, I would always be happy with. Welcome to the world of entitled Taichung preteens at my school.

Anyway, after telling my mom that I wanted to quit, I felt awful. Way to burden my mom halfway around the world who can’t exactly just jump on a plane, fly 15+ hours, and console me in person. But, as always, my mom told me I could come home anytime and everything would be okay.

Just so I’m now bitching about my kids every entry (and every day in my head), this was the highlight of my day:
Me: “Are you doing summer camp? ….. I’m not.”
Kid: “OH?! 我不要來!” (I don’t want to come!)
Best. Kid. Ever. And to think he’s the reason I got myself into this whole debacle, sigh.

“Back then I didn’t know why, why you were misunderstood,
So now I see through your eyes, all that you did was love.”
Spice Girls’ “Mama”

I’m Ready

Ordering food in Chinese… I’m halfway there. Just need to be able to read memorize 2000 characters (the optimal number for basic literacy).

Out of the alleged~ 80,000 Chinese characters, knowing only approx. 4000 (5%) to be considered literate in our modern day doesn’t sound too horrible…
CREDIT: Jun Da: Chinese Text Computing

I’ve already given up on wanting to learn how to write; literally EVERYONE and their mom told me it was impossible this late in the game, even the parking attendant at 台中車站 (Taichung Train Station). So, I’m focusing on reading and speaking coherent sentences. I only practice writing because as helpful as pinyin might be while learning, the menus and other important signs are NOT written in pinyin, damn it, and as a experiential learner~, writing helps me memorize. I’ve started swooping into food shopfronts/stalls (they’re not exactly restaurants…) and stealthily stealing their menus without having to speak so in order to sit at home and translate the entire thing and practice ordering without them finding out that I’m one of those foreigners who are CLEARLY Chinese, but can’t speak or understand because everyone else speaks too quickly (and holy run-on sentence!).

Anyway, I’ve returned to this dumpling shop on the main road near me, 八方雲集 (English: 8 Way). I went there for the first time with my mom back in August as we were settling in near the school. A few months later, I went back for the good memories. I lucked out because one of servers spoke just enough English. I never returned after that… too ashamed because although they had an English sign menu, the paper you had to fill out was in Chinese. It took too long for me to correlate the English sign menu with the Chinese paper menu.Sadness. Anyway, a student wanted to check it out a few weeks ago, and lo and behold, my Chinese-English word association had improved (thank God after 8 months!) and I was able to quickly place my order, only saying two words: 外带 (takeout) and 谢谢 (thank you). Downside was that I copied my student’s order with the Chinese tally strokes, and didn’t really bother to figure out how it really worked.

Today, I went back and wrote the number instead of using the Chinese tally, and the server was confused. After much Google-ing upon returning home, I finally figured it out – thank you, Wikipedia ~Image/moreyouknowrainbow.gif. Pronounced zhèng in Mandarin Chinese (and in Hanja, 정). Anyway, I took a card menu tonight, so I can sit at home and learn to pronounce 招牌鍋貼 (signature fried dumpling) and 玉米濃湯 (creamy corn soup) with the wrong intonation. Next up, is actually READING (or using my translator to figure out the pinyin, whichever works) the menu at another shop. I really want to try 烤雞飯 (baked chicken with rice) and 烤地瓜 (baked sweet potatoes)…

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

재수 없어

Being a kid sucks. It’s hard. I don’t remember it being this difficult. Or maybe it was and I erased it from my memory.

The bullying amongst my students is disgusting. Every day I address it directly and indirectly. Every day I address it to the class and individually. My scolding, lecture, pleading, or what have you, falls on deaf ears (of most of the boys). They refuse to change… they don’t realize it’s just a vicious circle. NO, you do not need to have the last word; just bite your tongue and sit your ass down.

But are they just being typical preteen boys? Where do I draw the line between “just being boys” (or kids, in general) and bullying? Where does my responsibility for their actions and words end? Do they ever? I don’t want to look back and say I didn’t do anything enough. I obviously don’t condone their behaviour, but by ignoring it (because they ignore my daily speeches), will they manipulate that non-action and misunderstand their malicious behaviour as “appropriate” classroom behaviour?

And then aside from the verbal bullying, there’s the social or covert bullying that goes on that the kids don’t even recognize. Isolation is a form of bullying. Telling everyone that so-and-so is not good in such-and-such subject is kind of a douche move. What gives you the right to spread that around? Does it concern you? Nope. Talking about another classmate’s weaknesses as if that classmate isn’t there, and if said classmate is there, talking about it as if that classmate doesn’t understand English. Get off your pedestal, child. It killed me to have a student tell me how scared (s)he was to speak up in class because of the other students. I never felt more helpless as a teacher.

And worst part is that these kids DO get it – they know what they’re doing is wrong, but they don’t give a rat’s ass. They do what they have to do to make themselves feel all high and mighty, and the other student to feel like utter crap. And then God forbid somebody disciplines them for their wrong behaviour. Suddenly, I’m the wicked witch of the west. How dare I ask them not to be jerks and assholes to each other. But if I say nothing… Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

“Knowing what’s right doesn’t mean much unless you do what’s right.”
– Theodore Roosevelt

Rumour Has It

So a girl allegedly called out another boy on his crap (to who? She doesn’t really talk to anyone). The boy was pissed. As the unbiased teacher, I tried to be sympathetic.

But let’s be real though… is she wrong? The kid ain’t lying.

I’ll give it to my kids – it’s never a dull moment with them. Sometimes I’m just so miserable and unhappy as their teacher, and I don’t know what keeps me going, nor what ties me to this job. Are those small teaching moments – the ones that confirm that I was made for the job of teaching and “inspiring” – that worthwhile that it overrides every yoga class to healthily unleash my inner emotional and mental breakdown, stress-inducing, hair loss, crying-on-the-inside-wishing-I-was-anywhere-but-here moments? Maybe.

I remember those far off in my distant memory days where, despite six hours (or less) of sleep with an hour of heavy traffic ahead of me, I would wake up excited and thrilled about going to school and teaching. Now, part of me dreads it.

“Don’t fuck with an English major.
They keep lots of useless crap trapped in their heads.
Once in a while they let some of it out and it bites you square on the ass.”
– P.C. Cast, Divine By Mistake

The Return

Second year abroad. First year in Taiwan is drawing to a close, with perhaps one or two years (max!) more. It’s about time I start documenting this other chapter of my life.

We’ll start off slow… by leaving you with the question I often ask myself as I stare at my kids who are likely not doing what they’re suppose to be doing, despite the fact that I’m sitting right there watching them, ready to ice them out: What am I doing here?

“[Experience] was merely the name men gave to their mistakes.” – Oscar Wilde.